This Wheat Belly Blog post inaugurates a series of conversations in which I shall focus on one bacterial species at a time to highlight its role in the human microbiome and, thereby, the role each may play in your return to ideal health. We begin with none other than one of our favorites from the bacterial world: Lactobacillus reuteri. If you’ve been following along the Wheat Belly conversation, you now understand how substantial the health benefits of L. reuteri can be.

Of course, all these conversations begin on the background of other efforts that help to prevent further erosion of bacterial health. These efforts include:

  • Avoiding chlorinated/fluoridated drinking water by filtering your water or other means
  • Avoiding or minimizing prescription antibiotics except when genuinely necessary
  • Avoiding herbicide/pesticide residues from food by choosing organic whenever possible or growing vegetables and fruits yourself
  • Elimination of wheat and grains— and there by avoiding gliadin, gliadin-derived opiate peptides, wheat germ agglutinin, D-amino acids, phytates, and other bowel toxins that are largely indigestible by non-ruminant humans. Dysbiosis (disruptions of bowel flora) is therefore the rule with grain consumption, as they are so incredibly disruptive on the mucous lining of the intestinal tract, bowel flora, and cause gastrointestinal inflammation.
  • Avoiding soft drinks and other sugary foods
  • Avoiding or minimizing prescription drugs—We know that drugs that increase stomach pH, i.e., block stomach acid, such as Prilosec, Protonix, and Nexium, also disrupt bowel flora—dysbiosis is virtually guaranteed over time. There are probably many other drugs that alter bowel flora, but the drug industry almost never tests whether bowel flora is impacted.
  • Avoiding emulsifying agents—Emulsifiers not only emulsify food, but also emulsify the protective mucous lining in the gastrointestinal tract. The mucous lining modulates bacterial movement and composition and can increase intestinal permeability of the sort that can lead to autoimmune conditions. This issue seems to be one of potency with more potent synthetic emulsifiers being the most offensive: polysorbate 80, carageenan, lecithin.
  • Avoiding genetically-modified foods—Glyphosate and Bt toxin in genetically-modified foods, GMOs, both alter bowel flora. By avoiding all grains such as corn and rice, as well as soy, you avoid GMO exposure.

And that’s just for the intestinal microbiome. (There are additional efforts for the skin, oral, vaginal, sinus, and airway microbiomes.)

The two strains of L. reuteri that have the most evidence are the DSM 17938 and the ATCC PTA 6475 that we use to make our L. reuteri yogurt starting with the BioGaia Gastrus tablets or, more recently, the single strain in the Osfortis product. (There are other strains that have been shown to have a limited panel of benefits, such as the 30242 that reduces total and LDL cholesterol–a “benefit” of questionable helpfulness–but let’s focus on the two strains that we know most about.) I’ve summarized the effects of these L. reuteri strains in several previous Wheat Belly Blog posts, but briefly, L. reuteri:

  • Colonizes the upper gastrointestinal tract–Unlike other species that “prefer” the environment of the colon, L reuteri adheres and colonizes the stomach, duodenum, jejunum, and ileum where it produces bacteriocins, natural antibiotics effective against the organisms of SIBO, the Enterobacteriaceae. (L reuteri yogurt is therefore one of the components of our Undoctored Protocol for SIBO.)
  • Reduces infantile colic, regurgitation, and accelerates recovery from diarrheal diseases in children
  • Provokes release of oxytocin from the hypothalamus–This is the means by which all the age-reversing effects develop: accelerated skin healing, smoothing of wrinkles due to increased dermal collagen, increased muscle and strength, preserved bone density, increased libido. Oxytocin is also the mediator of emotional and social effects such as increased empathy and desire for connectedness with other people, effects that I speculate may contribute to modern phenomena such as increased social isolation and suicide. For this reason, I have come to believe that everyone should restore L. reuteri, just as most people enjoyed the effects of this species up until the mid-twentieth century.
  • Reduces H. pylori in the stomach, the organism behind ulcers and various gastrointestinal cancers.

By making L. reuteri yogurt using the modified method I introduced (prolonged fermentation in the presence of prebiotic fibers), we obtain super-duper high CFUs for maximum oxytocin and probiotic benefits. But L. reuteri can also be provided to those (people younger than age 45, menstruating females) who don’t need such an extravagant oxytocin boost by making a mixed culture yogurt and fermenting with more than L. reuteri alone.

It may turn out that other strains of L. reuteri provide similar or even additional benefits, but that needs to be explored. (We are contemplating sponsoring some of these clinical trials to expand our menu of choices.) In the meantime, the extravagant benefits of repopulating your gastrointestinal tract with L. reuteri is absolutely worth pursuing by making the high-potency L. reuteri yogurt or taking the Osfortis probiotic for those of us 45 and older, or making the mixed-culture yogurt for younger people.

Over time, we are going to work towards constructing a menu of what I call “foundational species,” i.e., rebuilding the handful of species, such as L. reuteri and Akkermansia muciniphilia, that provide the supportive environment that helps repopulate the dozens to hundreds of other beneficial species without actually taking specific action to do so. In other words, by restoring what we could regard as supportive foundational species, numerous other beneficial species follow, such as various other Lactobacillus, Bifidobacteria, and selected Clostridia, Prevotella and other species.